June 28,2018

Wyden Statement at Finance Committee Markup of ACF, Commerce, and Tax Court Nominations

We will vote on the nominations off the floor of the Senate. There are several nominees up for consideration, Ms. Elizabeth Copeland and Mr. Patrick Urda are up for positions on the U.S. Tax Court. Obviously those positions deal with fairness for taxpayers as we’ve been talking about today. Mr. Jeffrey Kessler is nominated to be an assistant Commerce secretary, and if confirmed, he would play a key role in another of bipartisan concern, tougher enforcement of trade laws. I plan on supporting each of those three nominees.

The fourth who is up for consideration is Ms. Lynn Johnson, nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary for Family Support. In that position, Ms. Johnson would be the head of the Administration for Children and Families.

There are several specific issues regarding that nomination that I will just touch on briefly. The first deals with the child welfare system. Our committee has passed a number of landmark, bipartisan child welfare laws. It is our job to perform vigorous oversight of those laws, and the Congress, to do that, needs access to the information that shows how child welfare programs around the country actually work on the front lines.

Unfortunately, last year the Trump administration announced a plan that would make it significantly harder to get the information this committee and the public needs to conduct oversight of these programs effectively. This is not a criticism of that particular nominee, Ms. Johnson, but it certainly was a mistake by the Trump administration -- a big mistake in my view, a mistake in the wrong direction for kids in foster care.

I’ve been working with the department on this issue for several months. We’ve had communication. But I still don’t think there’s been enough actual progress on that front.

That then brings me to the second issue with respect to Ms. Johnson. If she’s confirmed, she would oversee the Office of Refugee Resettlement. This is the agency that has custody over the thousands of refugee children the Trump administration separated from their mothers and fathers.

Americans have rightfully been horrified by stories of weeping mothers unsure of where their daughters and sons have been taken. And some of the audio tapes, gut-wrenching audio tapes, have been heard about young children crying out in fear inside a detention facility. Americans want answers as to how this administration is going to fix the crisis it created. 

Now Ms. Johnson, when she ran the Colorado Child Welfare program, green-lighted a law allowing foster kids to be placed in juvenile detention facilities. When the committee met several weeks ago for a hearing on her nomination that was one issue among several that committee members had to consider. Now, because of the new firestorm that the Trump administration created, the issue of putting children in detention facilities is obviously very much on the minds of the American people. But in my view, the committee has not had an opportunity to learn nearly enough about how Ms. Johnson would handle this part of her job, if she’s confirmed.

And the fact is, we have been in the dark to a great extent on this matter for several weeks now. We had Secretary Azar with respect to the children under his custody, not able to give us straight answers even with respect to how many of the parents have been told where their children actually are. So Ms. Johnson certainly, if confirmed, is going to have a key role in addressing this issue of protecting these kids. Making sure these children are safe when we’ve seen they really are at considerable risk.

She’s got a big job ahead of her. We will have the vote off the floor of the Senate. Certainly a number of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are going to support her. But in view of the two issues that I have mentioned, I am not able to support her nomination today.